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Surprises from the Ice: Ancient Arrowheads Found Via Melting Glaciers in Norway

Surprises from the Ice: Ancient Arrowheads Found Via Melting Glaciers in Norway

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A number of arrowheads have recently been found in the melting glacier on the mountain Kvitingskjølen in southern Norway’s Jotunheimen range. Some have been dated to between 900-1050 AD based on the types of arrows and techniques used in their creation. However, additional evidence suggests other points may be much older.

Science Nordic reports that the researchers chose to work at the glacier site because it is known to be a hotspot for reindeer. As Espen Finstad, archaeologist in Oppland County and co-director on the glacier project said, “The oldest finds here are around 6000 years old. Which means that there’s been hunting here for at least that long.”

Secrets of the Ice , a website associated with the current archaeological work, says that although there were only a few recorded discoveries made on the ice in Norway at the end of the 20th century, things changed with a warmer autumn in 2006. Since then,

“The high mountains of Oppland have seen repeated episodes of melting in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. More than 2000 archaeological finds have now been recovered in Oppland County alone, making the region the most finds-rich area for glacier archaeology globally with more than half the finds worldwide. Oppdal has also seen melting and many new finds. Recently, finds have also started to appear in other mountain regions in southern Norway.”

A 1000 year old arrow found in the Jotunheimen mountains in 2014. It is relatively well preserved, but the lack of fletching and sinew shows that it has been out of the ice before.

A 1000 year old arrow found in the Jotunheimen mountains in 2014. It is relatively well preserved, but the lack of fletching and sinew shows that it has been out of the ice before. ( Oppland County Council )

Finstad and Lars Pilø, fellow archaeologist in Oppland County and co-director on the Oppland glacier project, used experimental archaeology to see how effective the arrowheads may have been for their previous owners. Finstead shot different types of arrows at an already dead reindeer from ten meters away. He said : “The hunters stood at fairly close range and shot the arrows from different positions on the glacier […] Several of our shots severed the backbone, so it had would have killed the animal instantly.”

The bird arrow (also known as a bird point), was found to be especially effective. Science Nordic explains that a bird arrow is a point that is split in half, “like two knife blades facing each other.”

Other evidence of hunting comes in the form of more than 500 trapping pits which have been recorded in Sjødalen in Jotunheimen. The archaeologists have also found artifacts they call “scare sticks.” Science Nordic describes the use of said objects:

“Scare sticks were used as a kind of fence to direct reindeer where hunters wanted them to go. They were stuck in the snow every few meters and would have a small string or piece of birch bark tied on at the top. When it fluttered in the wind, the motion frightened the animals and they would stay within the bounds of the poles.”

A cache of 1500 years old scare sticks found at the edge of an ice patch on Lomseggen ridge.

A cache of 1500 years old scare sticks found at the edge of an ice patch on Lomseggen ridge. ( Espen Finstad, Oppland County Council )

Speaking about the sticks , Julian Martinsen, curator and archaeologist in Oppland County, says, “We know that [scare sticks] were used around 300-500 CE, and they were also used in the Viking Age.”

So far, the Secrets of the Ice project website says that 49 glaciers and ice patches in Oppland have revealed artifacts. Hunting tools, transport equipment, textiles, leather and clothing have all be recovered by the archaeologists. Moreover, zoological material has also been found in the form of antler, bone, and dung.

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Although the receding glaciers may seem to make the discovery of the arrows and other lost or discarded artifacts easier, the lack of an ice covering also provides a new problem - without the protection of the ice, artifacts are exposed to the elements. The race against time and the weather means that the archaeologists must try to work quickly but carefully and thoroughly to save as much as they can.

Archaeologists searching for artifacts near a receding glacier in 2011.

Archaeologists searching for artifacts near a receding glacier i n 2011 . ( Johan Wildhagen/Palookaville )

Top Image: An arrowhead which may be from the early Viking period. Source: Lasse Biørnstad / forskning.no

By Alicia McDermott

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